Ten questions with Empathy Test

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Empathy Test’s Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf
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Super-smooth British synthpop masters Empathy Test have caught our attention recently during a Twitter scan of new music with their vibrantly textured melodies and haunting lyrics that stayed with us like a bittersweet memories of teenaged loves. The duo of singer Isaac Howlett and producer Adam Relf deftly blend ’80s-style electronic pop inspired by brilliant movie soundtracks like Drive, Terminator, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind along with modern indie groups like CHVRCHES and Purity Ring to create a stunningly layered and satisfying sound.
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Empathy Test will publicly debut the entire new EP Throwing Stones live at a November 28 release party at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London. Tickets are available online for £6 or at the door for £8. Fellow London synthpoppers New Arcades are slated as the opening act.  The EP will be available through the Brooklyn-based Stars & Letters label on December 9.
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Throwing Stones cover art by Adam Relf
1.  Gentlemen, congratulations on your gorgeous new EP Throwing Stones. You both seem to be in perfect synch with each other musically. What do you attribute to that success?
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Well, we’ve known each other since we were kids, so we’ve had a long time to get to know each other! We share a mutual love for a good hook and a catchy chorus and we both enjoy music that’s dark and uplifting. We have our roles in the band well-defined, we play to our strengths and we respect each other’s opinions about how best to do things. That’s it really. 
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2.  You two have been together as Empathy Test for less than a year.  What did you do previously?
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Isaac was an acoustic singer-songwriter and Adam produced dance records for a few independent London labels. We attempted to work together before but it never really got off the ground. With Empathy Test everything just clicked. In synth pop we found a genre that suited us both, and we finally had the skills and experience to make it work. 
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3.  Although you have been childhood friends, you just recently decided to play music together. What drew you together for this project?
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Isaac took a two year sabbatical from London, spending a year in Brighton and a year and Barcelona. He came back to London and we started hanging out again. One day we were at Adam’s place talking about movies and music, and we were just inspired to make some new music. We recorded Losing Touch, and quickly realised we were onto something.

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4.  You mentioned your shared love for ’80s synth pop, and your music does seem to echo shades bands like of Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. What are your influences from that time period?
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We can’t say that either of us really listen to any of those bands now, although we are aware of them and the influence they’ve had on the current electronic music scene. Adam is particularly into the movie soundtracks of that time and as we use ’80s analogue synth samples we’re bound to sound a bit like the bands you mentioned. 
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5.  There has been a resurgence of synth pop over the past decade or so with innovative bands like yours and also those like M83, Sylvan Esso, and Hot Chip. Is this a continuation of what was started 30 years ago, or do you see this as a completely new direction for the genre?  How do you see the genre progressing?
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Again, we don’t really see ourselves as part of a particular genre or movement. Synth pop has seen a big resurgence as part of the 80s revival in all areas of culture. It’s great to be riding this wave but we like to think that as our career progresses our music will develop and change, as it already has done. We wouldn’t be surprised if the bottom falls out of the synth pop thing quite rapidly now because we’re nearing saturation point. We hope to stick around a bit longer.
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6.  Visual art is an important component to your music. Can you explain more about that?
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Adam is an illustrator as well as a music producer so he was always going to do our artwork. The artwork is inspired by the music we make and Adam likes to create a new piece for every track. We made a conscious decision at first, not to put up any “band photos” or too much info about us, we wanted to give the music a life of its own. The artwork was and is part of that. 
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7.  You also both share an appreciation for movie synth pop soundtracks like Drive and Aliens. What about those soundtracks drew you to that music, and what made you want to expand on it?
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There’s something primal and deeply evocative about analogue synth sounds that we find really moving. They’re alien and synthetic but at the same time somehow organic and human. They immediately give a dream-like quality to a track; we wanted to build on that. Essentially, we wanted to work those cinematic soundscapes into proper, memorable pop songs. I think we achieved that immediately with Losing Touch.

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8.  You’re kicking off your tour with an EP release party on November 28 at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London. Can you tell us where you will tour and what to expect at your live shows?
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We haven’t actually booked a proper tour yet, as such. We’re looking to sign with an agency because booking tours is a logistical nightmare we’d rather not deal with! We’ll start with a UK tour, then Europe and finally America, it’s all a question of how big we get and how soon! The live show is something we’re developing at the moment. We’ve got a new set-up where all of our instruments, including the drum pads, will be on three separate tripods. We’re auditioning a drummer to join us on stage. 
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9.  You recently signed with the U.S. indie label Stars & Letters Records in Brooklyn, New York, which seems to be a great fit for you.  They boast a rather impressive stable of indie acts such as Shocking Pinks, Bad Blocks, and Misfit Mod.  We know you are about to release the new EP, but can you tell us what’s on the horizon with Stars & Letters (e.g., new album, videos, etc.)?
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Everything depends on the success of the Throwing Stones EP really. Once the EP lands and the dust settles it’ll be a case of taking stock and sitting down with Stars & Letters to decide the next move. Stars & Letters are very keen for us to release a début album with them – they wanted an album as our first release, but it had always been our plan to release at least two EPs before a full-length album. For us it’s about building an audience. The last thing we want to do is to release a whole album and no one to hear it! 
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However, we’ve plans for a Throwing Stones Remixed EP in the new year, with some really exciting bands lined up to do remixes. The first one, by Sweden’s Lost Years, has already previewed on Soundcloud. We’re also working with Richard Swarbrick, who did the Liverpool FC animation featuring Losing touch on our first music video. We’ve seen his ideas for it and it looks incredible.
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10.  Any chance you’ll bring your live show to the States?  Specifically this blog’s hometown of New Orleans?
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Yeah, definitely, I’m guessing we’ll make a preliminary trip over to NYC as Stars & Letters are based there. We’ve applied for SXSW too, so maybe if we get picked we’ll be over for that. As we say to everyone that asks, we will get to you as soon as we are physically able to! 
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